TAG | Community
I attended the public meeting at the Mechanics Hall in Brechin to discuss the Town Centre Regeneration Fund project.
I would like to thank Jim Milne for chairing the meeting and Angus Council for organising it, in the hope of giving Brechin residents the opportunity to hear the background and delivery of the project and to raise their concerns.
I was disappointed that so few local residents got the opportunity to air their views. With Councillors from all around Angus, MSPs and political party activists turning the event into a political circus.
I attended with a view to listening to the views of local people, and hoping to discover what lessons could be learnt. My fellow candidates for Angus North and Mearns in the upcoming Scottish Elections, Nigel Don and Alex Johnstone, came to be heard, not listen. Their questions demonstrated either their lack of knowledge of the project, or willful aim at political point scoring. In particular Mr Johnstone suggested that a Compulsory Purchase Order could have been used when he knows full well that would never have been possible.
It is not surprising that politicians get a bad name, given that point scoring was more important for many who attended, rather than establishing the facts and learning lessons.
It would appear that the SNP in Angus, faced with justifying the SNP Government’s decision to withdraw funding promised to Brechin, have decided that offence is the best defence. They have tried to throw mud at Angus Council’s handling of the project, which from my 15 years experience as a Project Manager, has been excellent.
In particular I was very disappointed at the deeply personal attacks made on Council officers who have clearly worked extremely hard to bring £1m of investment into Brechin and are clearly deeply personally disappointed at not having been able to secure the remaining £800,000 from the Scottish Government.
I was well aware of the issues in advance of the meeting and was very impressed with the council officers as they presented the facts, and it was very clear to me that they could not have done more to reach a satisfactory conclusion with the property owners involved. The reality was that they were undone twice by property owners who broke their promises to sell to Angus Council.
Furthermore, it appears that all Councillors had the opportunity to raise their concerns throughout the period of the project, at various meetings both in Forfar and in Brechin, but did not do so. As was said last night, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and all councillors, as well as those involved in the Brechin Town Heritage Initiative and the Brechin Area Partnership were given regular updates, as well as given the chance to ask questions and make suggestions.
Let us welcome the £1m of investment in Brechin, along with the private investment in the old Woolworths, and learn lessons for the future, rather than take every opportunity to turn Brechin’s economic circumstances into a political football.
Responding to the suggestion by Arbroath Cllr David Fairweather that Community Councils be disbanded, Liberal Democrat campaigners for Angus, added their support for the great work done by Community Councils.
Sanjay Samani, campaigner for Angus and Mearns, said:
“As secretary of Alyth Community Council, I am fully aware of the crucial role they play in local communities.”
“In particular, Community Councillors do a huge amount of work on a purely voluntary basis. They organise a tremendous amount of events, discussions and fund raising for local people. In Alyth, sub groups set up by the Community Council are responsible for the Christmas Lights, the Gala and parade, youth activities, management of the Town Hall and a community consultation on long term plans for the town. These are just some of the things that Community Councils are responsible for, all across Angus.”
“All this unpaid work done on a voluntary basis would have to be taken up by the Council at considerably more expense than the nominal savings Cllr Fairweather’s suggestion would make.”
Montrose Councillor David May said:
“I visit three Community Councils on a regular basis. They represent the cross section of opinions to their local councillors and act as a key liaison with Council officials, local police, schools, residents associations and healthcare providers. They are a weather vane for residents’ opinions on key planning applications and on long term planning for their areas.”
“Without the voluntary work done by them, Council officials would have their work cut out to make sure that their decisions are democratic and represent the views of everyday people.”
Kirriemuir Councillor Alison Andrews commented:
“Having attended my local Community Councils, disbanding them would be a huge loss to communities. They would lose the strong voice they have with local service providers, with Angus Councillors and Angus Council as a whole.”
“It is really important that residents are able to raise local issues without involving any party politics and it is vital that communities continue to have their say.”
A blog post by Duncan Stott at Split Horizons is garnering some interest today. It suggests that there may be some unwanted consequences of criminalising mephedrone, or as it is more commonly known here in Angus, bubbles.
Duncan suggests that:
Mephedrone users will continue to use mephedrone. They like the feeling that the drug provides, and will continue to seek (and may be addicted) to the high it provides. Instead of suppliers who were complying with the law, mephedrone will now be provided to them by criminal gangs, who will command an inflated, untaxed premium for the drug. Some addicts will turn to crime to fund their habit. The strength and purity of mephedrone will greatly vary, to the detriment of the health of users. Rivalry between the drug gangs will bring violence and weapons to inner-city streets.
Duncan is wrong on several counts. Speaking to Fiona Walsh of the Volunteer Centre Angus, I discovered that mephedrone is cheaper than booze. If mephedrone develops quality issues and becomes more expensive, kids will switch back to drinking alcohol. Secondly, addicts turn to crime when they cannot afford their drug of choice. Given how cheap mephedrone is, this is unlikely. He is also wrong to assume that the legal suppliers of mephedrone are not just a front for the criminal gangs supplying illegal drugs.
Mephedrone users will switch to more familiar highs, such as cocaine or ecstasy, that mephedrone attempted to emulate. They will be supplied by criminal gangs, with all the above problems.
Again, it is more likely that users will switch to alcohol or other cheap drugs such as cannabis, rather than more expensive, harder to come by drugs. Also, it might surprise Duncan, but being illegal does actually sometimes work as a deterrent for young people, who do not want to fall foul of the law.
Previously legitimate businesses that supplied mephedrone will be forced to close, with subsequent job losses. This is at odds with Gordon Brown’s statement that “every redundancy is a personal tragedy. Every lost job is an aspiration destroyed. Every business closure is someone’s dream in ruins.”
I do not count companies selling mephedrone, that has been specifically developed as a legal high as “legitimate businesses”. Duncan is being extremely naive if he thinks that the same criminal gangs that sell illegal drugs are not behind the legal ones that sell mephedrone. I doubt that you will find mephedrone on sale at your local garden centre.
Mephedrone users will switch to some of the many other legal highs on the market. Like mephedrone, the effects of these new drugs will not be known by science, and may be more dangerous than mephedrone, causing a new wave of deaths, and a new wave of calls for government action.
Here Duncan may be right. However leaving mephedrone legal will not stop new, more dangerous drugs being developed.
If we were to follow Duncan’s logic through for other narcotics and legalise them, we can look to our two legal drugs, alcohol and nicotine to see what the impacts on our society would be:
- Charity Turning Point claims that there are 1m children living with alcoholic parents. We would condemn how many more kids to a such an upbringing?
- Driving under the influence is a major issue across the country. There is no equivalent to a breathalyser for most drugs. How much would it cost to police Drug Driving? How many more police would be needed? More importantly how many innocent people would be killed on our roads?
- My father died of lung cancer. Seeing the other lung cancer patients on the hospital wards really brought home to me the impact of smoking on families, children and the NHS. Cannabis is primarily smoked, often mixed in with nicotine, in unfiltered joints. Legalising it will only increase the cost of treating lung cancer in this country
- Lost business hours. Already businesses lose time to workers who are addicted to alcohol or have smoking related illnesses. How much of an impact will legalising drugs have on our businesses and our economy?
Neither banning drugs, nor legalising them answers the fundamental question: why do people turn to drugs? The answers are complicated and the solutions even more so. I discussed this in more detail in my previous blog which you can read by clicking here.
What then is the solution? Well as I wrote in the blog post above:
Instead we must break the cycle of alcohol abuse and demonstrate to these children that there is a positive alternative.
We have to be serious about helping parents overcome their alcohol addiction, provide separate support for the children and then help to rebuild these families.
We need to get young people who have been drug and alcohol abusers themselves, to go and talk to children about their experiences. Just like the excellent Fiona Walsh is doing for the Volunteer Centre Angus, based in Arbroath.
And we must also ensure that children have places to go and things to do, that do not involve alcohol, like the Attic Project in Brechin or the CAFE project in Arbroath.
The problems we need to solve are “social exclusion”, for lack of an equally succinct phrase, a cycle of abuse in families and a lack of positive alternatives and awareness of a different way of living for young people. Criminalising drugs does not solve any of these problems. But nor does legalising drugs, or leaving news one legal and instead will have a massive negative effect on our society. The solutions to these problems are complex, difficult and will take a long time, perhaps generations. There is, unfortunately, no easy, quick fix.
I accompanied by Regional Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes and Montrose councillor David May visited the YM and had lunch at the community cafe. They heard from Val Cooper of the YM and committee member Anna Roberston, of the funding issues faced by the YM and the actions they have taken to resolve them.
Val and the YM supporters are doing a superb job in meeting the needs of the people in Montrose. The cafe was completely full when we visited, which just goes to show how successful it is. The customers that I spoke to were all really enthusiastic about the YM and the cafe’s role as a community meeting place.
I was also met members of the over 50′s club, and listen to their local concerns. With activities for all ages, the YM is one of those rare services that allows the whole community to come together. It is always a pleasure to see local people coming together to support each other.
David and Alison commented that the lunch was not only excellent value and of high quality, but quite obviously serves the needs of the community, given how well the community cafe is supported.